Person centred counselling training – A students view

Person centred counselling training changed me!

Person centred counselling training has changed my life , It’s all about me ! I realise that if  I  live my life about me, then there is more harmony inside and out !

I realise that if I live my life about me, then there is more harmony inside and out !

When I started personal counselling I had no idea that my therapy was based on the teachings of Carl Rogers, I had heard about him as I had studied Psychology to degree level, I understood the concepts (or so I thought), but I had never contextualised it.

My studies were objective, not subjective, there was little room for reflection. Now as student,,in person centred counselling training. I can explore what core conditions of person centred counselling mean to me.

The concepts and paradigms or person centred counselling I had been introduced to had felt a bit abstract and philosophical. Latterly, as a direct result of counselling, I started thinking, experiencing, understanding and feeling them myself.

So it began..

I suppose it’s a bit like a mechanic and his car. The mechanic cannot learn exclusively from a book, he needs to get his head under a bonnet and listen to the purr of the engine. My thoughts and feelings, my soul, my sense of self … these are components of my engine. I had to look deeper than a book, I had to listen to the purr.

Person centred counselling training

Chiron -The Wounded Healer

Did my counsellor listen with empathy? reflecting my words back to me and walking along side me? Yes, I think she did. It was almost like she had followed a similar path. I have no idea of the path that took her on her journey, am I wrong to assume that she too is a Wounded Healer?

Reading about the ‘wounded healer’ theory (Guggenbuhl – Craig 1971; Rippere and Williams 1985) the pain of the healer is the source of their power to heal others…. the healer’s own experiences form the foundations of their empathy with clients and their wounds …..after all, who better to understand difficulties than a person who understands them from his or her own frame of reference?

I went around and around in circles with the concept of empathy during those early months in person centred counselling training.  The same question knocking constantly in my head…

What does empathy actually feel like to ME?

Others could describe it until they were blue in the face, but that didn’t give me what I thought I needed. I felt strongly the necessity to feel it before I could truly grasp what it meant. And once I’d felt it, I wanted to be able to articulate it to someone else – a good indication that I had better understanding of person-centred counselling

So did I feel it during my first year of role play?

Yes I believe I did. Let me try to articulate it …

I remember becoming totally lost in my helpee’s story.

I was unaware of the seemingly fake situation, of my own feelings or views. I was existing in that moment, no past or future. I was feeling their experience, not my own. My perception was theirs, not my own. It was surreal, it required concentration, connection and a sense of rapport. My helpee felt safe, relaxed and open to discussion. So did I.

I was depleted. Afterwards, whilst at the same time experiencing a type of meditative peacefulness. This I believe to be empathy, whilst being very aware of perceptions, semantics and the challenge behind the translation from thoughts to the written word.

There have also been times when a story resonated with me as helper. As a result ,I got lost in my own thoughts, my head full of judgements and advice, things that I didn’t offer to the discussion, but they effected my concentration and therefore my connection. I was not feeling empathic in this moment. My frame of reference was not where it should be. I wasn’t walking in my helpee’s shoes; I had my own shoes on.

During person centred counselling training, practise is required. It’s purpose – to reinforce what we are learning aka experiential learning. I often pondered role play. Why did this label/task put the fear of God into us all? Because we didn’t enjoy drama at school? Because it felt unnatural and fake? Would the initial fear have been tempered if it had been called skills practise?

The process of acting out a hypothetical scenario, without time to prepare, is possibly one of my first scary experiences in early skills training. I questioned it’s purpose, possibly a bit deeper than was necessary. If we don’t feel safe enough to be authentic in life, do we then have to act to feel accepted?

Does it suggest that even though we think we are acting we are not? Surely our thoughts, feelings, experiences and perceptions on life are very much ingrained within us? During times of intense one2one conversation perhaps it’s hard to be fake? Especially when you are doing most of the talking.

This brings me nicely onto congruence.

In the past, when I struggled with being myself, when I lacked authenticity when I changed to fit in, my life became stressful… there were so many contentions. My behaviours would change, I didn’t like myself. If the inauthenticity continued for too long I had a tendency to withdraw from a relationship, quickly and without discussion. I didn’t like this about myself.

I realised before counselling that this negative state was down to me to resolve, but I didn’t know how to turn it around. Being authentic takes courage, there was a risk people wouldn’t accept me, more of a risk was the thought of losing, what I believed to be, good friends. I needed to set boundaries, what if I couldn’t maintain them, for fear of being disliked?

I did it, slowly and without too many waves. It felt organic.

I did hide for a while. I now surround myself with similar thinking people. The friends that drifted away sit on the periphery of my life. These peripheral friends have history, memories and will always be there. But the true friends are different, they reinforce what I need, they stimulate me intellectually … they listen. These relationships feel authentic.

There is synchronicity, balance and equality. There is no drama. As a result ,I feel content.

There are other relationships that were stressful, not because of who I was but more the effect I allowed these people to have on me. I had to take responsibility for my own feelings, set the boundaries so that I didn’t need to be defensive or saddened by particular people. Exploring why these people effected me was challenging, but I pushed on through. I have no doubts that these feelings will reemerge over time, as there are some things I can’t change, things that I just have to accept in myself and others.

I don’t really know whether my counsellor is congruent.

it’s not my place to comment. But I assume she is, because if she wasn’t the relationship wouldn’t work. She facilitated the changes in the parts of my life that were hard work, as well as my conditions of worth that may have been placed on me by others. I felt valued and learnt to trust my own judgments.

But I assume she is, because if she wasn’t the relationship wouldn’t work. She facilitated the changes in the parts of my life that were hard work, as well as my conditions of worth that may have been placed on me by others. I felt valued and learnt to trust my own judgments.

So, being congruent or authentic is very important. I loathe fake social situations where there is no connection or rapport. It reminds me of how unsociable I can be.

Being congruent, during my Person-centred counselling training, was probably easier to analyse. I felt congruent whilst at the same time, disparate. My authenticity within this group setting was so real, it was almost uncomfortable. I felt like an outlier, but I wasn’t able to change who I was to fit into the group. Every week I ruminated on who I was within the group. Some weeks it felt challenging. I’m glad I had my own personal counselling to fall back on here.

Every week I ruminated on who I was within the group. Some weeks it felt challenging. I’m glad I had my own personal counselling to fall back on here.

Five key things I recall exploring with her during this time …

  • Feeling  fake and subsequently, withdraw when you cannot be yourself.
  • How will changing who I am within the group help?
  • I can’t be liked by everyone
  • Unconditional positive regard was something new to my vocabulary and a concept that I created a rule for.
  • Only ask questions for clarification, don’t be nosy or interrogative.
  • Person centred counselling training asks a lot of a student

This worked well for me as a basic remit. My counsellor has asked questions out of context before, I can’t say I felt judged or criticised, but it was very unusual, and therefore salient. Why did she need to know the details of my husbands new job that day? I will never know. I don’t need to know.

All I need is to be aware of it, notice it, explore it ….. from my own frame of reference.

How do I remain non-judgmental when I experience a situation that goes against my own values? something that makes me feel sick to the core? Do you know what? I’m not sure. But this is why I am in training, to understand my prejudices and learn how to separate the person from their behaviours. Learning to accept that I am multi-layered; that my life experiences shape my actions and behaviours; that this applies to every human on this earth… I have no right to judge others, nor they I.

I read somewhere once, that all counsellors, even those who don’t primarily specialise in person-centred counselling use the core conditions as a base for their practise. I wonder if that’s because they are useful life skills? That they are not exclusive to the therapist, that they can be applied in every walk of life.